The Iliad and Odyssey are replete with single speeches or exchanges of speech which are described by the noun νεῖκος (‘quarrel’, ‘strife’) or its derived verb νεικέω. Some time ago, A.W.H. Adkins showed that νεῖκος and νεικείω are used in Homer to designate various kinds of agonistic discourse: threats, rebukes, insults, quarrels and judicial disputes. Critics often now describe νεῖκος-speeches and νεῖκος-exchanges in the Iliad as examples of ‘flyting’. This term, shared by the languages of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse and the dialect of Old Scots, is transferred to the combination of boasting, invective and threats which Homeric heroes hurl at each other. This is because Iliadic νεῖκος has affinities with the traditional and highly stylised verbal exchanges which take place in the feasting halls and battles depicted in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Germanic heroic poetry.
In his book The Language of Heroes Richard Martin has argued persuasively that the flyting νεῖκος is a significant speech-act genre performed by Homeric characters and that its competitive mode is analogous to the Homeric poet's poetic project tout court. Just as Homer produces a monumental epic whose focus on Achilles may well be competitive with other renderings of epic tradition and is certainly derived through the manipulation of memory, Homeric heroes and gods flyte by manipulating and contesting the resources of memory. The best Homeric flyting is creatively poetic within existing conventions or strategies and is thereby rhetorically devastating. And Martin sees Achilles as the best flyter because he rhetorically manipulates memory better than any other hero. Thus, the hero is like his poet and the poet is like his hero. Achilles' competitive way with words is unique in (and to) the Iliad and is emblematic of Homer's overpowering competitive poetic achievement.